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Rob Brown: Crown Trunk Root Funk

John Sharpe By

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One-off assemblages can be hit or miss affairs, but so powerful was saxophonist Rob Brown's ensemble at the 2006 Vision Festival that it was deemed essential that they were brought into the studio.

With his carefully controlled use of harmonics and split tones, allied to a quicksilver inventiveness, Brown is one of the most instantly recognizable voices in free jazz today. In pianist Craig Taborn Brown has found a like-minded spirit averse to the obvious route. Taborn's electronics contribute one novel addition, but more significant is Detroit drummer Gerald Cleaver putting the funk, albeit fractured and abstracted, into the title. Anchoring and driving the band is the venerable bassist William Parker, a long time associate of Brown's.

Brought together to explore areas not covered in his previous work, the quartet prospect seven Brown originals, traversing a lot of ground, from the urgent funky undertow of the opener "Rocking Horse" to the brooding ambient soundscape of "Sonic Ecosystem." On the latter, Taborn switches between the interior of the piano and skittering electronics, punctuated by Cleaver's clattering percussion, while alto and arco bass repeat a long unfurling unison line over the alien terrain. Throughout pieces shift deliciously in and out of focus, suddenly leaving the listener suspended amid spirited free interplay, before returning to Brown's bittersweet themes. The high point is the closer "Worlds Spinning" where the romantic elegiac melody evokes a detached observation of earthly travails, drawing forth inspired solos, with a lovely passage towards the end where Brown's altissimo intermingles in the upper register with Parker's bowed bass. When everything clicks, this rewarding set delivers a visceral punch not normally associated with the saxophonist, perhaps a new seam he was looking to mine.

Track Listing: Rocking Horse; Clearly Speaking; Sonic Ecosystem; Ghost Dog; Exuberance; Lifeboat; Worlds Spinning.

Personnel: Rob Brown: alto saxophone; Craig Taborn: piano, electronics; William Parker: bass; Gerald Cleaver: drums.

Title: Crown Trunk Root Funk | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: AUM Fidelity

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